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Should we rent our car in advance?

I've been researching this topic on my own, but I'd love to get some advice.

Do we need to reserve our rental car in advance?

Our family is visiting the UK this July for the first time. We are a family of five--3 kids, 7, 12 ,14. We'll each have a backpack and a small rolling carry-on we will need to fit in the car. My husband can drive a standard, but he's never driven in England before so I think an automatic would be better.

Some details: We are only renting a car for two days. We'll be going out to Heathrow to rent our car mid-week and driving to the Cotswolds to stay for a couple of nights. We'll be returning our rental car to Birmingham Airport and taking a train to our next destination.

My husband is convinced because you can rent a car on the spot in the US, it will be the same in England. (And, he doesn't like to plan!)

Posted by
615 posts

Have your husband imagine schleeping 3 kids out to heathrow and finding out no cars are available and then schlepping them to the next spot...... include whining and waste of time.
You know this is your plan and you know you need a car big enough for 5 in a peak season , oh and you'd prefer an automatic....

Reserve in can cross that worry off your list.

Posted by
7209 posts

With all of your specific requirements (big car, automatic transmission) of COURSE you need to reserve in advance. with 5 backpacks and 5 rolling suitcases you probably won't fit into just a big car - you'll probably need a minivan.

That's going to be a tall order even reserving ahead of time.

And then on top of all that you'll need to drive on the opposite side that you're used to. Good luck finding your vehicle. Do look at places like and for car rentals.

Posted by
2766 posts

No! You have three factors working against you (that is, they lower the chances of finding an appropriate car)

  1. Automatic - more rare, therefore more likely not to be available
  2. Kids- larger car. Limits options. Plus do you need to rent a car seat for the 7 year old? I think that age requires a booster, unless your child is unusually big for their age.
  3. Returning in a different location. Not every agency allows this or has locations in both places.

My guess is yes, you'd probably find a car on arrival - after standing in lines for multiple agencies, which is no fun. Plus that's a guess, not something I'd risk my trip on. What happens if there isn't a car? Are you stuck? Just reserve it.

Posted by
1045 posts

Especially if you desire an automatic, you need to reserve.
There's no harm in reserving in advance. Our reservation with autoeurope for this summer has the following terms.

  • There is no fee to cancel a car rental booking provided that you contact Auto Europe more than 48 hours before your pickup time. A fee of $75 will occur with any cancellations with less than 48 hours notice.
Posted by
824 posts


Have you considered taking the train or a bus out into the Cotswolds and renting your car there? If you're going to spend the time and money to get everybody out to Heathrow just to rent a car (picking the car up and driving back into the city doesn't make sense either), you might as well take public transportation out to a Cotswolds village (or Bath?) and pick up your car there. Besides, I've heard cars are more expensive at Heathrow and renting in the countryside would allow you to avoid the city traffic.

I would reserve the car in advance in order to get the car you need and at a discounted rate. Additionally, you needn't always pick-up and drop-off rentals at airports. Many of the rental companies have offices in city centers a lot closer to train stations. A little research will go a long way to streamlining your vacation itinerary so you spend more time sightseeing and less time traveling to and fro.

Finally, if you are considering travel insurance, look into policy riders to cover car damage and insurance deductibles. Hint - your credit-card car rental insurance may not be valid on international car rentals - ask explicitly beforehand get a list of documents/actions required to submit a claim so you'll be prepared in the event something happens. When you are several thousand miles and an ocean away, it's hard to get what you need after the fact.

Posted by
90 posts

Thanks for the replies. I will share all your very valid points with my husband.

Basically, I'm not sure I can see any downside in us reserving a vehicle, but many in NOT reserving!

To answer the last poster, we did look into taking a train from London into the Cotswolds and renting a car from a little town there, but it seemed like there would be some difficulty getting from the train to the car rental location and I was worried about less availability in a smaller town, given our specific needs! We also needed to find a reasonable train fare to Edinburgh from the Cotswolds and finally decided that if we drove the hour to a transportation hub like Birmingham, we would save both time and money on our ride to Scotland and would have no train changes (rather than having to return our rental car to said small location with smaller train station and more expensive/longer/complicated train ride).

Thanks for the suggestions though! I Iove hearing what the more seasoned travelers have to suggest, and our idea to go to Birmingham actually came from someone who responded to a post I put on here a month ago asking for tips on the best way to get from the Cotswolds to Scotland.

Posted by
3428 posts

What about NOT driving? Take the train to Bath or Stratford-upon-Avon. Tour the Cotswolds with a day tour company. Spend one night. Then take train to Edinburgh. Even if you need to train back to London to get train to Edinburgh, it might save worries and hassles. We refuse to drive in Europe (especially the UK) for several reasons-
Gas (petrol) is very expensive there
Parking is scarce and very expensive- often not very near the sights either
For a family, even with limited luggage, you will probably need a larger car (mini van or larger) and the roads in rural Britain can be very narrow, sometimes even one lane.

We LOVE train travel in the UK- easy, and restful. Hubby takes his I-pod and listens to music and plays games on his I phone when not looking at the beautiful scenery out the window (which he wouldn't enjoy if he had to drive). I usually take sketching materials and enjoy that and watching the scenery. Sometimes we even nap- lol!

If you do decide to drive, you could take the train to Slough and rent there rather than going out to Heathrow and having to deal with the congestion and craziness of getting out of the airport area. You could return car back there and get train to Edinburgh or perhaps another smallish city or town IF the company has convenient locations AND allows different rental and drop off locations.

Posted by
6099 posts

I agree with others that reserving in advance makes sense, for peace of mind and better selection. And I'd suggest Heathrow simply because you're likely to find more choices there than anywhere else you're going. Also, putting five people on the train to Bath or Oxford or some other jump-off point will cost you, even though only two are adults.